A pair of my favorite boots are stitched with a single piece of cobbler’s thread all the way around the top of the sole to keep it attached to the top of the shoe. I often imagine what would happen if one of the stiches got nicked. I assume that it would just be a matter of time before the whole sole comes away and I’m left flapping along with every other stride.
Sometimes I think my faith is like this. That it consists of these stiches that are all one continuous thread, but are so precarious that if one of them wore away or was severed, I would be left with the metaphysical equivalent of a detached sole.
One of my favorite passages in the gospels is right after the Transfiguration in Mark chapter nine. Jesus has been revealed in his glory to the three apostles and they are wandering down back into a group of people and there’s this kid who’s been rolling around because of seizures. Jesus is thinking he could heal this guy and asks the boy’s father, ‘do you believe I can do this?’ and I love the admission of the father.
He says, ‘Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief!’ This always melts my heart because it speaks to the human condition we have of desperately wanting to believe, so badly that we are hungry for it. He knows this prophet in front of him can restore his son, can wipe away the malady and sooth his soul. And yet he STILL has doubts, he still understands that he’s not there yet.
Recently, Dan Heischman was able to come spend some time at our school. For me this was a time to reconnect and also to focus our thoughts and conversations on how we are Episcopal and what that means. Many of the forums over the course of the visit highlighted for me the fact that as head of school I am the de facto spiritual leader of the community. It’s a responsibility that is all the more sobering for me, given what I’ve just said about the soles of my shoes. How can I, with the puny faith I have, lead this school in this way? What have I got to give?
Whenever I’m tempted to become self-absorbed by thoughts like this, I think of what Tom Wright, the popular Anglican theologian, once wrote about humility. ‘Part of genuine humility…’ he writes, ‘…is to get up, shake oneself out of convoluted navel-gazing, and get on cheerfully with the work you’ve been given.’
Being a spiritual leader does not mean having the biggest, most gob-smackingly vibrant faith in the community. Sometimes it means simply getting on with the work we have been given as a servant among the people.
Like Dostoyevsky, my hosanna springs forth from a ‘crucible of doubt’. But it is a cry of quiet triumph nonetheless, a claim I make even with the uncertainty of my faith holding the stiches together.
Michael Heath is Head of School at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, South Carolina.